Katty Kay is the anchor of BBC World America and a contributor and guest host for Morning Joe at MSNBC. She and Claire Shipman are coauthors of the New York Times bestseller, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know. For a taster of what can be expected from the book, have a good gander below:
“Confidence, it turns out, is partly genetic. You know that sense you have that some people just do find life easier? Well it could be that they have confident genes. They were simply born with the right DNA.
For years neuroscientists have been looking at the genetic factors behind negative psychological attributes – depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety etc. They are now just starting to research the genes that control positive character qualities – intelligence, optimism and finally confidence.
The scientists we interviewed as we tried to dissect self-assurance for The Confidence Code are mostly examining confidence in monkeys and rats (who knew there was such a thing as a confident rat) but much of the genetic make up is remarkably similar to humans. It is all groundbreaking stuff and the science is changing very fast.
The old nurture/nature debate is stale and the latest research looks more at how our nature (our genes) is affected by our nurture (our environment).
As they hone in on the science of confidence, our researchers insist there is no one confidence gene. Rather, there are a group of genes which are thought to affect our predisposition for either anxiety or, on the flip side, confidence. Anxiety and confidence are widely seen as the mirror traits of each other. Doubtless scientists will discover more of them but for now, here are three confidence genes.
- SLC6A4 is the gene that controls the serotonin levels in our body. Serotonin you probably know is the hormone that is associated with feelings of well being. It’s the basis of many anti depressants or SSRIs. The gene that controls how effectively our bodies process serotonin is the SLC6A4 – or the serotonin transporter gene. It comes in several variants and the variant you have will affect how confident you are.
- OXTR is the gene that controls our oxytocin levels. Oxytocin, also known as the cuddle hormone, is the wonderful stuff that floods our bodies and makes us feel the world is a friendly place (sort of a healthy version of ecstasy!). An efficient OXTR gene also helps predispose you to confidence. By the way, women get a surge of oxytocin after sex, when breastfeeding and from hanging out with female friends.
- COMT is a tricky gene. It is also known as the worrier/warrior gene and it controls the level of dopamine in our bodies. That’s the hormone associated with stress and high performance. It too comes in different variants. If you get the worrier variant of the COMT gene the chances are you are more anxious and less confident. The warrior gene makes you more prone to confidence.
You can find out if you have the confident version of these genes by getting a genetic test done. We got them done last summer by two different companies – 23andme (when it was still doing testing) and a newer company, Genomind, which looks more at genes that affect our psychological characteristics.
Genetic testing is a very simple process. The company sends you a kit that includes a small plastic phial. You spit into that, shake it around, FedEx it back and a couple of weeks later you get the results emailed to you.
It’s the waiting for the results that is nerve wracking – a bit like waiting for your SAT results to come through. I had developed my own scenario for my genetic blueprint and somehow felt that anything less than a certain level of genetic predisposition to confidence would be failing. I know, that is totally absurd. One thing we really can’t control in life is our genes. But being a bit of perfectionist I wanted good strong confident genes.
I was disappointed. My genetic make up does not suggest confidence. I did pretty well on the OXTR gene – I have strong levels of oxytocin, which means I generally like people and find the world friendly. But my variants of both the SLC6A4 and the COMT gene suggest more anxiety than confidence.
Once I was over beating myself up for not having perfect genes, I realized something however. I am a confident person, even though my genes don’t predispose me to confidence. Which leads us to an even more important attribute of this essential quality. Yes, confidence is partly genetic, but even more so, it is a function of the choices we make. I am confident because of the decisions I have made in life, because of the things I have done, not because of my genes.”
If you want to learn more about how confident you are, you can take the free assessment at The Confidence Code website and find out.
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